As the Boston Celtics ran on the court for what was possibly their final game until who knows when, their section of family members supporting them from inside the bubble gathered for a photo.
Forty-eight minutes would decide whether their trip would be extended, whether they’d be able to visit the pool one more time, or in this case, whether they’d be able to pose for one final memento.
And for most of Friday’s first half, it seemed like the Celtics were of the mind-set that packing up and heading home might not be so bad.
It felt assured that the Lakers would be playing the Miami Heat next week in the NBA Finals. But elimination games are always tough, and inside the bubble, they’ve been almost impossible.
The Celtics forced a Game 6, beating Miami 121-108 while reminding the Lakers exactly what they’ll be up against Saturday.
Because while the magnetism of home adds a unique twist to closeouts in this postseason, it’s always eventually overcome by the pull of competition and the refusal to accept the seemingly guaranteed end result.
“That’s just us. It’s a lot of fight in our team,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown said. “We’ve come this far. We’ve sacrificed so much, and we’ve been here a long-ass time. If anything, if we wanted to go out, we wanted to go out fighting.”
It had to be on the minds of Lakers assistant coaches Miles Simon and Quinton Crawford, who jotted notes as they scouted Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in person. In a day, their team would have to face a team with the same kind of refusal to leave as the Celtics showed against the Heat.
Like Boston, Denver’s been here a long time. And like the Celtics, the Nuggets have had chances to leave and, instead, rebooked longer stays.
The way Boston stayed alive was extremely Nugget-ish, shaking off a rough start, looking a little emotionally flat and falling behind by a dozen in the first half before rolling through the Heat in the second.
“We’re prideful. We want to do well. … Our deal was to come out and play, come out and compete and give it our best shot, and I thought we played pretty well in the second half, but we’re going to have do it again and again because of the position we’re in,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “…We’re trying to be our best. We care about competing. We care about representing our team and our organization well, and we care about each other. It’s why you compete.”
Boston can’t feel the same about the NBA Finals. A month ago, they looked like the team most likely to be a win away from the Finals. The bubble has changed some of those views, with the Heat looking like the most together team on the court.
In the first half, their balance was a huge problem for the Celtics with Duncan Robinson, the undrafted, former Division III player, scoring 12 points in the first quarter. And while Miami pushed its lead to a dozen in the second, the Celtics watched shot after shot rattle out.
But in the second half, the Celtics “locked in,” Jayson Tatum said. But what they really did was play hard — like really, really hard.
“Live with the results if you leave it out on the floor,” Tatum said. “… It’s not going to be perfect, but give yourself a chance.”
Tatum scored 17 of his 31 points in the third quarter and when he cooled off in the fourth, Brown got hot and scored 12. The two combined to score 59 points.
After Tatum’s lone field goal in the fourth, teammates Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis slapped hands and embraced, finally sure that there would be a Game 6.
“We know what’s at stake,” Tatum said. “We lose and go home.”
And as good as home sounds, the teams trailing in the conference finals won’t go there easily. The Lakers can count on it.